Enough With The “Build It And They Will Come” Mantra!

With the winding down of the Digital Content NewFront (DCNF), one thing is clear – there is a lot of compelling video content.  The question remains – will enough people find it? Online/Mobile video providers are not the only ones confronting this dilemma. A multitude of options are available for audiences of all shapes, sizes, colors, etc. and that hasn’t changed – other than just getting larger by the day. While TV content providers had to go through a phase of dwindling audiences and learning to be able to deal with it, publishers of digital content never had anything but a diverse, wide and scattered environment with which to service. Those in the space always knew that while we could track more information and produce content more inexpensively – but it would be hitting fewer people than the broadcasters and many cablecasters were.  That scale was the first challenge that I think we have collectively gotten over.  Perhaps the biggest hurdle moving forward is the limited perspective usually found in dealing with everything surrounding the actual content creation and the driving of eyeballs to content. It was kind of understandable why many people thought they could build something cool, slap it up on the web and generate some traffic or buzz back in the day.  Before Social Media came on, that was certainly easier – not always completely effective, but more effective than it is now. Today, while many marketers talk about the need for Social integration with their brands and their digital marketing products, its frustrating to witness how many people are still mired in the ideal of “Build it and they will come.”

We see many instances of digital products that take off and generate buzz in a timely fashion, but only tick off one or two boxes out of the five that they could have hit if planned and produced fully across all channels and divisions. Many success stories are achieved almost by accident and many marketers jump on to take a part in its glory. It should no longer be acceptable for a marketing team or vendor to engage on a project based solely on a cool idea if they do not have an executable plan for reaching the right audience.  When setting KPIs or projecting ROI without a clearly defined smart distribution/seeding plan, you’re working in a “fingers crossed” capacity.  Some feel that by creating something cool and putting media behind it, they will be successful.  They will probably be more successful than if they just placed the marketing product in the digital realm, but it’s still not as strong as it can be.  And, that’s why strategy goes beyond any individual campaign and looks to leverage all existing distribution/seeding outlets.

Bringing it back to DCNF, Google/YouTube is the last presentation and will be touting the deeper opportunities with channels – where users can delineate what they are most interested in and have those videos come up in quasi-curated groupings. This might make things a little easier – especially on the video platform that serves up 3 billion hours of video a month. But, for the content creator and any advertisers who are paying for product inclusion within the content, there still needs to be some sort of engagement that actually drives the eyeballs to the content.

While it was nice to see some interesting content presented during DCNF, there’s still a huge lack of compelling discussion of how users will be drawn specifically to this content.  If they are just relying on the conceit that viewers are organically drawn to the affinity channels they most associate with, then they’ve had their eyes closed for a while.  On television, there are MANY channels that I have an affinity for. Yet, there are maybe 15 channels that I will flip through when not watching something in the DVR. Studies have shown that I’m not alone.  So affinity alone does not hold too much water when discussing the introduction of new shows and the generation of viewers.

Moving away from video and focusing on digital marketing products, it’s the same thing. A close friend of mine, Jo Oskoui, told me about an experiment his team just completed that speaks directly to this dilemma.  His company, Oskoui+Oskoui, will be publishing a study that delves deeper into the specifics, but the gist is that they had produced a piece of content and originally posted it only on their blog.  They posted the piece in Q3 2011 when there was a lot of buzz about the related product – a product with a huge cultural value that happened to have a major consumer product release at the time. Their blog gets decent traffic for a blog of that type, but they wanted a limited posting and then see what happened. The basic creative element got less than 50,000 views since posting on their blog – OK but not much.  More than six months later, they completed their experiment by engaging their proprietary social distribution and seeding network to distribute the same exact piece of content and were able to garner over 3 million views with a high rate of re-posting in only one week.

This exemplifies the importance of having a whole plan surrounding any digital marketing product launch. There is too much happening in the digital realm – without even get into the today’s crazy buzz about George Zimmerman’s legal defense team launching a site and social media outlets – nobody can rely on just placing content in the digital realm and expect people to find it.

The good news is that there are many cost-effective options for creating that holistic marketing execution. In fact, I would push vendors to not only come up with the creative idea, but the sound executable plan for generating the distribution that’s required to make a difference (and establish the parameters of success.)  Many companies already engage separate vendors to do creative production, social strategies and implementation, and publicity, but they don’t do a great job of keeping every group up-to-speed – leading to less effective campaigns and wastes of money. So, even if the creative agency isn’t a one-stop shop, that doesn’t preclude the marketing team from engaging all groups internally and externally to set the stage for a whole campaign.

We know that we won’t strike gold every time, but we’ll certainly do better if we go out with a smart strategy and ensure that the strategy and products are communicated across all parts of the company – not just putting content out there and crossing our fingers that people will find it.   FIELD OF DREAMS is a fictional story and we know that the famous line,”Build it and they will come”is just a piece of dialog – we just need to act like we know that when launching our campaigns.

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